A national book editor once told Joanna Brooks that if she were a Presbyterian married to a Jew, her coming-of-age autobiography would find a ready audience across the nation. Interfaith marriages are big, the editor said. But a Mormon? No way.
So Brooks, an award-winning scholar of religion and American culture and senior correspondent for ReligionDispatches.org, published the book herself in January. Within months, agents were at her door, begging to represent the wildly popular volume, The Book of Mormon Girl: A Memoir of an American Faith.
It is, after all, the so-called “Mormon moment,” and Brooks has become the go-to girl for journalists covering every LDS angle of Mitt Romney's campaign. She is adept at explaining her church, its history and policies for the reading public, which she does with wit, candor and affection.
On Tuesday, Book of Mormon Girl will have a new printing by the Free Press, a division of Simon & Schuster, including a couple of additional chapters. Two days later, Brooks will fly to New York to be interviewed by TV host and comedian, Jon Stewart.
“It’s a really exciting time,” Brooks said Monday in a phone interview from her home in San Diego. “It’s been a wild adventure.”
For the longest time, books about Mormonism on the shelves at major bookstores were mostly about outlaw polygamists or dry LDS history, she said. “I hope my book creates space for more Mormons to tell our stories, humanize our faith and show the beauty and complexity of our tradition.”
In her memoir, Brooks describes a Mormon childhood in California, her attempts to dress and act like Marie Osmond, her time at Brigham Young University in the 1990s, when several of her mentors and role models were disciplined by the Utah-based LDS Church, eventual disillusionment and distance from the faith, and finally her return to it as a liberal Democrat, just as the church began its campaign on behalf of Proposition 8, to define marriage as only between a man and a woman.
“Joanna Brooks defies Mormon stereotypes,” said Politico.com.
Though she has been profiled on CNN.com and American Public Media’s “On Being” and quoted in The Washington Post, The New York Times, Reuters, Newsweek, Salon and Fox News, Brooks does not consider herself as a spokeswoman for the LDS Church.
“I think of myself as a storyteller and translator,” said Brooks, who teaches at San Diego State University. “Mormonism is too broad and too diverse for one person’s story to represent. There is so little media that captures the warmth and humor of Mormon life and gives people a sense of why it [the faith] matters so much.”
Brooks, who is married to a Jew and raising their daughters in both traditions, is delighted by a chance to speak with Stewart.
“He’s been so good to Mormons,” she said. “He’ll want to put a human face on the church — a Democrat and progressive Mormon face.”
As a playful gesture, the group known as Feminist Mormon Housewives is sewing pioneer bonnets for Brooks to give Stewart – one in navy wool to match his suits, another one with the Star of David and others.
All this attention, including the Thursday "Comedy Central" taping in New York, Brooks said, “is still an out-of-body experience.”
Peggy Fletcher Stack